In the movie Wall Street, Michael Douglas said, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” He went on to make the point that greed “captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all its forms: greed for life, for money, for love, for knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”
Donald Trump has been quoted as saying, “The point is that you can’t be too greedy.” And, he has said, “My whole life I’ve been greedy, greedy, greedy. I’ve grabbed all the money I could get. I’m so greedy. But now I want to be greedy for the United States. I want to grab all that money. I’m going to be greedy for the United States. “
After an election such as the one we just experienced, it’s important to reflect on just what kind of country we’ve become. The fact is that 48 percent of the US population voted for Donald Trump. Despite what we know about Trump’s character, his aversion to truth, his crude and base statements about others, his lack of empathy for those who have fallen ill or died from the pandemic, many of us held our noses and voted for him. Why?
I contend that greed is a big reason—not the only reason—but a big reason. When I ask my Republican friends how they can overlook this man’s character, his lies, his crude behavior and vote for him, they say things like. “I don’t like to pay one cent more in taxes.” “I don’t believe in open borders.” “Foreigners are taking our jobs.”
Many of these comments have an element of greed in them. It’s the, “I worked hard for my money, and I don’t want the government or other intruders into my space to take it away” mentality. Perhaps I’m oversensitive to this thinking, but this is depressing. We are so afraid that if someone else wins, we will lose.
Trump convinced many of us that if we voted for him, we too could share in the “greed” that has worked for him. We too could “gild the lily” and wallow in conspicuous consumption. Even his promise to save the suburbs was in essence about greed. Basically, he was saying if you vote for me, you won’t have to share your suburbs—your nice parks, your good schools. Your property values won’t go down. I will put my arms around you and keep them from harm. No need to share.
And then there was the “America First” theme. Is that really the focus America should have? Yes, we must establish fair trade agreements so that America gets her fair share. But it’s also important that we, as the leader of the free world, set a good example by promoting peaceful solutions and encouraging environmentally sound and helpful policies that lift all nations.
In Trump’s glory days as a businessman, he leveraged himself to the hilt and kept buying more and more properties, each one glitzier and more ostentatious than the next. Many of us see that as the sign of a successful businessperson. Ironically, he built those buildings on the backs of immigrants—many of them illegal.
Trump isn’t alone in the “greed” grab. Think about the many businesses that seek to line their pockets by pandering to accomplish whatever administration’s “hot buttons” are so that they too can benefit from them. There is a good reason that Fairfax and Montgomery counties are some of the wealthiest in the country. There is nothing wrong with trying to make an honest buck by providing solutions to government priorities. But consider businesses and lobbyists who criticize reasonable regulations that keep people and the environment safe simply because it costs them money and eats away at a percentage of their profits. Thomas Jefferson once said, “Experience demands that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor.”
And the US isn’t alone in the big grab. Clearly Great Britain’s Brexit movement illustrated that same attitude. Many Brits didn’t want immigrants invading their country and sucking up all the government healthcare and other services and insisting “legitimate” Brits pay the tab.
Most countries in the world are guilty of bad behavior at one time or another. Many of them have owned up to it and taken steps forward to improve. Many of them also have taken a few steps backward before going forward again in their journeys. Other countries are well aware of past bad behavior in the US. Still they admired much about our democracy, our ingenuity, our moral compass, and our willingness to help other countries that suffer in some way.
That respect for America has steadily dwindled over the last four years. This administration has shown the ugly underbelly of the US time and time again. According to Pew Research, other countries’ favorable view of the US is the lowest it has been in the 20 years since the Center began its polling. Favorable ratings in the United Kingdom are at 41 percent; in France, we’re at 31 percent and 26 percent in Germany. We are seen as shallow, selfish, racist and greedy. Clearly, we have taken more than one step backward in our quest for a “better union.”
We all know JFK’s familiar inspirational quote that challenged Americans to commit to a larger vision, “Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.” That concept of what can each of us do to make the US a better place is on the back burner. It’s my hope that it once again becomes front and center.
And let’s be honest. You don’t need to become a socialist to be willing to share. There is such a thing as responsible capitalism that governs with decency, compassion, fairness and heart.
Maria Grant served as Principal-in-Charge of the Federal Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting. Since her retirement, she has focused on writing, the piano, reading, travel, gardening and nature.